Last night I met one of my neighbors and ended up giving him a ride to his AA/NA meeting. I don’t know this guy well, and probably won’t run into him very often in the future (living in a city means you have lots of neighbors). When we were driving over he told me that I’d be blessed for giving him a ride (I didn’t know that’s all it took) and he asked/told me to pray for him that he would keep being able to go to his AA/NA meetings.
He paused for an answer. It was a long pause. I said, “I will.” He smiled and went back to looking out the window and chattering away.
What I wanted to say was, “Well I’m an atheist. I don’t think there’s a god up there and I don’t pray. But I hope you do keep going to your meetings if they’re working for you.” But I didn’t. I told him I’d pray for him. Why’d I do that?
I didn’t know this guy, didn’t want to forge a deep relationship with him, and didn’t feel like sharing intimate details such as my lack of belief. Which would normally be fine – I’m a fan of people keeping their god beliefs to themselves. But when he didn’t keep his god beliefs private and asked me to pray for him, that would have been a great time to be open and honest and to throw atheism into the conversation. Instead I pretended to share his beliefs in order to avoid potentially turning an otherwise bland car ride into an awkward or unpleasant moment.Agreeing to to pray for him was easier, but it wasn’t the truth. He doesn’t have any power over me – we’re not friends or business partners. We share a city block. I had nothing to lose, and if the guy had judged me, fuck it – he could have walked the last half mile to his meeting.
I chickened out, but after unpacking this interaction, I’m pretty sure that next time I won’t. This will stick in my craw and I’ve issued a challenge to myself to act with more integrity the next time I’m in a similar situation. These little conversations with strangers, with neighbors and casual acquaintances are important. By putting ourselves out there and owning up to our non-belief, by refusing to nod our heads and go with the religious flow – this is how we will normalize and destigmatize atheism.